The jury’s in

Well, the Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF) is over for another year, it’s 33rd. And despite the economy – or just maybe because of it – it broke every record from previous years.

More than 60,000 people attended over the 11 days of the festival. And CIFF’s Audience Challenge Match fundraiser, embedded cleverly within the festival, exceeded its goal of $33,000 by a lot. The last figure I heard was $45,000, but they were still passing the bucket (literally) for change during the closing film.

One of the smart things that CIFF and other performing arts groups do is help the audience realize that their ticket price does not cover the cost of putting on the festival. You might pay $12 for a ticket, but the real cost of your seat is more like $28.

On my way home the last night, I heard people say, “They should hold this several times a year – it’s so good for downtown.” Of course, if they did that, the cost of the event would skyrocket and certainly the attendance would dwindle. It’s the concentrated offering in a limited time period that puts the festival in demand for film lovers here and elsewhere.

The CIFF runs on the skill and passion of six (yep, just six) full-time staff, and hundreds of part-timers and volunteers, most of whom take vacation time in order to work the festival, as do many audience members. Again, the once-a-year schedule makes this lean staff structure work.

So what was it like to be a judge for the short films?  Bleary eyes, hard decisions, too much junk food (I had my very first Slurpee in honor of the documentary Frozen City), lots of laughs and tears and frozen toes (those theaters got COLD!) 

I was worried it would take forever to come to consensus on the winning entries among the three judges, but the festival staff developed a system that was very helpful. When we all finally listed our top 10 or 15 films (of the 100 or so we saw), it was clear there was a limited number that were on all our lists. It took about an hour to make our final selection. Each judge weighed in on things we did or didn’t like among those few where there were differences, and we ended up either convincing others or being convinced ourselves. Quite civilized. You can check out the results yourself here.